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March 2014 Archive for Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter, AgWeb.com

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


If You Can't Beat It, Eat It

Mar 31, 2014

 One of the things I’ve kept watch on the past few years are the emergence of various invasive pests. Go to USDA’s Hungry Pests website sometime and look at the virtual hall of horrors. Feral pigs have stormed the south, as has the citrus greening disease that threatens our nation’s orange groves. Further north, Asian carp could devastate the entire Great Lakes ecosystem. And in Florida, we have to worry about giant snails that can eat houses. (Seriously, they have developed a taste for stucco.) You could probably even count resistant weeds as invasive pests, as they have been "imported" to new areas and wreak havoc in their new homes.

We’ve looked at various solutions over the years, from hunting feral pigs to developing new herbicide programs and practices to control the weeds. But Grazing The Net found a website called Invasivore devoted to a different philosophy when it comes to invasive pests – if you can’t beat them, eat them.

Not that I’m ready to dive into some python pizza just yet, but I applaud the idea. Problems often have unconventional solutions. Another great idea I’ve heard is some researchers are looking into the possibility of turning weeds into ethanol. Why not!

As one farmer told me earlier this week, the agriculture industry is full of MacGyvers who seem to be just a paperclip and some baling twine away from the next big on-farm innovation. As we enter into an era of unprecedented connectivity and precision capability on the farm, it will be exciting to see so many more unconventional solutions spill out of those technologies.

In the meantime, I’m kind of hungry – can someone order a pepperoni and python pizza?

Bill Nye Blinded Me With Science

Mar 19, 2014

 I just missed out when Bill Nye The Science Guy first hit the airwaves in 1993. (I was a freshman in high school at the time, and Nye has indicated his show’s target audience was 10-year-olds.) But while the format didn’t hook me, the message sure did – science was cool and exciting and invigorating and something worth doing.

Nye was and remains one of the very few nationally known champions of science education. He has made his fair share of headlines this winter, from debating Young Earth Creationists to taking selfies with President Obama. So when he came to the University of Missouri to keynote the 10th annual MU Life Sciences and Society Symposium, I jumped at the chance to go.

Upon taking the stage, Nye stopped briefly to change into a Mizzou-themed bowtie before launching into his lecture. Nye has been accused of liberal bias before, but the only thing that shone through was his science bias. Science will solve the world’s problems, he says, whether that’s building a better battery, finding new renewable fuel sources or solving the problems related to feeding and educating the world’s exploding population.

Nye says these problems will only be solved by igniting a love for science in future generations. He’s made this his life’s goal, in fact. Asked what the next crop of teachers should be teaching their students, Nye responded with a simple answer.

"PB&J," he said. "Passion, beauty and joy. Teach them the passion, beauty and joy of science and discovery."

Another student asked Nye who influenced him the most growing up and when he first became interested in science.

"I don’t know," he said. He talked instead about sitting in his front yard at the age of 3, watching bees buzz around his mother’s azalea bushes. Nye says that the observations he made cemented his own joy of discovery, and he spends a fair amount of time "just observing" even today.

As for me, I "do science" by writing about what you live and breathe every day. Your livelihoods depend on biology, physiology, geology, geography, climatology, chemistry, physics – any number of disciplines. Thank you for letting me take part in those joys of discovery with you.

And thank you, Mr. Nye. I’ll never look at a PB&J in the same way again.

20140315 Bill Nye 237

Bill Nye fist-bumps Mizzou Mascot Truman the Tiger during his visit to the MU Life Sciences and Society Symposium.

Invisible Keyboards and Other Future Farming Marvels

Mar 14, 2014

It pays to have a good imagination in farming, but even when you do, the future often looks pretty foggy.

If someone told us 10 years ago about some of today’s latest technological advances – 10 mph planters, multi-hybrid planters, drones, Google Glass, take your pick – most of us would have written it off as science fiction. Yet all of these technologies are very real and ready to be used in agriculture.

In that spirit, here are two concepts today that look like "sci-fi farming" but might become a reality on tomorrow’s farm.

1. Invisible keyboards. Well, they’re not exactly invisible, but no one will be able to see them but you. Samsung is working on a Google Glass competitor that will feature an augmented reality keyboard. That means you will be able to see an alphabet projected onto your hands and type in characters using your thumbs. (See an illustration of how it would work here.) It looks pretty useful, although it would make texting-while-driving even more incredibly dangerous than it already is!

2. Spider silk tow cables. Scientists have been trying to tap into the spider’s homespun technology for years now. This miracle of nature is, by weight, five times stronger than steel and three times tougher than Kevlar. Potential applications include superstring cables and lightweight heat-resistant clothing. It’s not hard to imagine how that might translate to tow cables, welding clothing and various other uses on the farm. Several small companies are claiming progress in production practices, according to Chemical & Engineering News. Among the hosts that can carry the spider silk gene is alfalfa – so farmers might not only be using spider silk on their farms in the future, they might be growing it, too.

Whatever the future may bring, there’s plenty of reason for optimism, says ag futurist Lowell Catlett. He says the coming decade should be one of the most exciting in agriculture.

"Do not punt on this one," he says. "Get ready!"

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